Coaching association expresses ‘concern’ with Timberwolves coaching hire

National Basketball Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle expressed his disappointment in how the Minnesota Timberwolves hiring process after they fired Ryan Saunders and hired Chris Finch.

“It’s always bittersweet when one coach is fired and another is hired,” Carlisle, who is also the coach of the Dallas Mavericks, said in a statement. “But this is not about individual coaches. We would be remiss not to acknowledge a deeper concern and level of disappointment with the Minnesota head coach hiring process.

“The NBCA understands and respects each organization’s right to hire and fire whomever and whenever it chooses. But it is also our responsibility to point out when an organization fails to conduct a thorough and transparent search of candidates from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.”

At issue: Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas bypassed Minnesota associate head coach David Vanterpool, who is Black, for Finch, who is white and was an assistant with Toronto. It marked a rare instance when an in-season coaching change involved bringing in a coach from another team.

The Timberwolves faced some criticism for not promoting associate head coach David Vanterpool and instead hired from outside the organization.

It appeared Minnesota had a capable replacement on staff in Vanterpool, who has been a head coaching candidate but never hired as one.

The decision has raised concerns around a league that is comprised of 74% Black players but has seven Black coaches.

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The Timberwolves have a diverse front-office staff, too, led by Rosas who was born in Bogota, Colombia, and is the NBA’s first Latino general manager. Executive vice president of basketball operations Sachin Gupta and vice president of basketball operations and player wellness Robby Sikka are Indian Americans and assistant general manager Joe Branch is Black.

In the offseason, three Black coaches were not retained – Los Angeles Clippers Doc Rivers, New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry and Indiana’s Nate McMillan – and David Fizdale was fired in-season in 2019-20.

Of the eight head coaching openings, three Black coaches were hired: Ty Lue with the Clippers, Rivers with Philadelphia and Stephen Silas with Houston. Also, J.B. Bickerstaff, who is Black and replaced John Beilein in Cleveland in-season in 2019-20, was given a long-term contract a year ago.

The Timberwolves hired Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch as their head coach after firing Ryan Saunders, marking a rare instance when an in-season coaching change involved bringing in a coach from another team. (Photo: The Associated Press)

The league has resisted creating an NFL-type Rooney Rule, unsure that it is effective enough, and does not want to mandate a team hire a specific coach.

“The answer is ultimately yes to should the teams be able to hire who they want,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on Sept. 30. “I don't see a way to operate a league where the league office, the commissioner is dictating to a team who they should or shouldn't hire.

“Having said that, I know we can do better. … We're in discussions with all of those teams about making sure there's a diverse slate of candidates. We've looked at what might be an equivalent to a Rooney type rule in the NBA, and I'm not sure it makes sense. I'm open-minded if there are other ways to address it.”

In his statement on Wednesday, Carlisle said the NBCA is working with the NBA “on a wide range of initiatives that will improve future coaching searches. In partnership with the NBA, we look forward to sharing details in the weeks to come,” Carlisle said.

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